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2015 NFL Draft: College Football Focus looks at edge rushers

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College Football Focus takes a look at the edge rushers in the 2015 NFL Draft.

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One of the cooler things to come out in the last few days is Pro Football Focus' expansion into analyzing college football in addition to the NFL. And with that, of course, comes yet another mountain of data to sort through. As we've already looked at the pSPARQ and SackSEER ratings for edge rushers, let's take a look and see what the analysts at CFF think of the 2015 class of edge rushers.

Much like their NFL evaluations, College Football Focus bases their evaluations on watching film and grading each player on each individual play. The analytics we've already covered base their conclusions on data gathered -- at least in part, for the SackSEER -- at the NFL Scouting Combine.

Much like their analysis of the NFL game, the folks at CFF look at sacks, hits, and hurries to decide how much total pressure a player brought on the opposing quarterback, then divide that number by the total number of pass rushing snaps.

Pass Rush

The most efficient pass rusher per CFF analysis, recording 38 total pressures in 196 snaps, is James Vaughters of Stanford. Arkansas defensive end Trey Flowers ranked second, amassing an impressive 61 total pressures, the most in the draft class, along with Marcus Golden of Missouri.

Elsewhere, Randy Gregory (Nebraska), Dante Fowler Jr. (Florida), and Nate Orchard (Utah) ranked seventh, eighth, and ninth respectively. Combine darling, Vic Beasley (Clemson), rated 17th. Meanwhile Shane Ray (Missouri) and Bud Dupree (Kentucky) were outside of the top 20 at 21 and 22.

So what does this mean, and who the deuce is James Vaughters? Well, to answer the second question first -- and lead in to the first question -- Vaughters is an outside linebacker, who is currently considered a marginal NFL talent. Scouts say that he plays with strength and hustle, but was also frequently left unblocked. The numbers bear that out, as he got pressure, but rarely got home with a hit or a sack.

Flowers, Gregory, and Flowers were all similar to Vaughters, but the difference for them is that they are always blocked and use NFL-level athleticism and skills to beat the tackle.

The outlier here is Orchard. He recorded 55 total pressures, 21 of which were sacks. Orchard either got home with a sack nearly as often as he hurried the quarterback.

Run Defense

Once again, Vaughters makes an appearance at the top of the list, and on about a game more run defense snaps than pass rushing snaps. Stanford pretty clearly looked at him as a run defender first. At fourth we once again find Arkansas defensive end Trey Flowers.

Second on the list is LSU defensive end Danielle Hunter. Hunter is an interesting prospect, and combines a lot of traits the Giants are known to look for in their edge defenders. He is long, measuring in at 6-foot-6, with 34.5-inch arms and 10.5-inch hands, and went to LSU. He's also an athletic freak, posting impressive combine and pro-day numbers. Hunter lead LSU in tackles for a loss, and finished with 74 tackles.

The "Interesting" part comes from the fact that he graded out as CFF's least efficient pass rusher. That, of course, is plainly visible on tape. Hunter shows an inconsistent first step and hand usage. However, his physical traits and run defense could draw the Giants' eye.

Shane Ray, who just missed out on the top 20 in CFF's pass rushing productivity list, checks in at ninth on their list with 38 solo tackles and 28 run stops. That is impressive given Ray's size (6-3, 245 pounds), but is a testament to both his first-step quickness and his motor.

His teammate, Marcus Golden, came in at 12th with 38 solo tackles, 26 stops, and an impressive zero (0) missed tackles.

Orchard makes an appearance on this list as well, but at 15th. Orchard amassed 42 solo tackles with 29 stops. That could be seen as a surprise, as the "main stream" scouting reports on Orchard ding him for his work in run defense.

Final Thoughts

It's nice to have deeper stats like this available for college players, and a major "Kudos" to Pro Football Focus for taking the Herculean task of looking at every play of every college game. It's also very interesting to see how the various players stack up against each other.

However, the raw numbers do lack some important context. For instance, CFF lists third down productivity. That is obviously the "money down" in the NFL and getting a sack on a third down can be a game changer. So, why did Dante Fowler shine on that list (third) but was towards the middle in overall productivity? Was he just better when it counted the most, or did it have to do with Will Muschamp's aggressive blitz schemes putting him in position to succeed?

What is definitely worth noting is how guys like Trey Flowers, Nate Orchard, and Marcus Golden consistently showed up. They are players who project to Day 2 of the draft (or later), but their consistent production in multiple phases against solid competition could make for some significant steals.